Read the play Oedipus the King from volume one of both Norton text editions
ANALYTICAL JOURNALS FOR PLAYS
PHILOSOPHY: THE ONLY WAY TO APPRECIATE A WORK OF DRAMATIC
LITERATURE IS TO KNOW THE HISTORICAL TIME IN WHICH THE
PLAYWRIGHT LIVED, TO UNDERSTAND THE PLAYWRIGHT HIMSELF, AND
TO ANALYZE THE WORK ITSELF THROUGH CAREFUL STUDY AND
1. Each Analytical Journal is valued with 200 points.
2. The Analytical Journal must be turned in at the beginning of class
on the date specified on your assignment sheet. MAKE A COPY
3. These Analytical Journals WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED LATE.
If you do not turn in the journals as required, you will receive a grade
of (0) on that assignment. These should be completed on a word
processor and be free from grammatical errors.
4. Each section should be labeled and explained as follows:
A. TITLE of play and NAME playwright.
B. SETTING: The setting of a play is the time and
place in which the action occurs. You can develop
setting by describing the following:
(1) Historical period (past, present, or future)
(2) Season of the year
(3) Year, month, day, or time of day
(4) Geographical location
(5) Physical environment
(7) Clothing, habits, customs, or dialects of the
C. PLOT: Plays are built around characters in
conflict. The conflict might be within a character
or between a character and an outside force–
another character, society, or nature. What happens
as a result of this conflict–the sequence of
events in the story—is the plot. The plot of a
play can be analyzed by using the following:
(1) EXPOSITION OR INTRODUCTION: In this section
the author provides background information,
establishes the setting, and introduces the
(2) INCITING MOMENT: This is the first important
event in the play. Something happens or leads
to the central conflict. The inciting moment
may come before the exposition.
(3) DEVELOPMENT: This section includes the key
events of the play between the inciting moment
and the climax.
(4) CLIMAX: This is the high point of interest
or suspense in the play. The climax may
coincide with the resolution.
(5) RESOLUTION: This is the event or series of
events that ends the central conflict.
(6) DENOUEMENT: This section tells of any events
after the main action of the play is complete.
Many plays have no denouement.
D CHARACTER: A character is a person in the play.
The main character is often called the PROTAGONIST;
if that character is in conflict with another
character, the opposing character is called the
ANTAGONIST. Playwrights reveal their characters
in a number of ways:
(1) Direct statement: The playwright can tell
readers/viewers that a character is, for
example, “a foolish man.”
(2) Description of characters and their
backgrounds: Knowing what people look like,
how they dress, and where they come from helps
readers/viewers begin to know them.
(3) Narration of characters’ actions, words, and
thoughts: Seeing how characters behave,
reading or listening to what they say, sharing
their thoughts–all these help the audience
to know them.
(4) Record of others’ reaction: Learning how
others treat someone or what they think
about that person helps us understand both
the person and the ones reacting.
ANALYZE AT LEAST TWO OF THE MAJOR CHARACTERS IN THE
PLAY BY ANSWERING THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS WHICH WILL
HELP YOU TO DISCOVER THE KEY ASPECTS OF EACH
CHARACTERIZATION GIVEN BY THE PLAYWRIGHT:
(1) APPEARANCE: What do the character’s appearance
and clothes reveal?
(2) BACKGROUND: What significant things have
happened in the character’s past? How does
the character live and work?
(3) PERSONALITY AND MOTIVATION: What kind of
person is this, based on how he or she behaves,
speaks, and thinks? Why does the character
behave as he or she does? What does the
(4) RELATIONSHIPS: How do other characters react
to this character? Why? What effect do these
reactions have on him or her?
(5) CONFLICT: What problems does the character
face? Are the conflicts faced by the character
internal or external?
(6) CHANGE: Does the character change because of
what happens in the story?
E. THEME: The theme of a drama is the central idea
or insight into life. The theme is not the
equivalent to a summary of the work; it is a
generalization that can be drawn from the work.
A one-act play may develop only one theme, while a
full-length play may develop several. Different
writers will word a statement of theme
differently, perhaps with slightly different
emphasis, but it is not true that any statement is
correct. YOUR STATEMENT OF THEME MUST REFLECT THE
WORK AS THE PLAYWRIGHT WROTE IT, NOT YOUR OPINION
OF THE CHARACTERS OR EVENTS. Sometimes the
playwright states the theme directly; more often,
however, the playwright suggests or implies the
theme. Answering the following questions will help
you discover the theme of a work of dramatic
(1) Does the title of the work suggest theme?
(2) What is the conflict? How is it resolved?
What does the result seem to say about how
people face similar conflicts?
(3) In what ways does the main character change?
Why does the character change? Does this
change reflect the theme?
(4) Do any significant details seem to suggest
theme, either through repetition or intensity?
(5) Considering all of the above, what, overall,
does the work seem to be saying?
F. EVALUATION: To evaluate a work of dramatic
literature is to judge it, to make a statement
about its value or quality. An evaluation expresses
an opinion which is supportable by actual evidence
from the play. To evaluate a play, you must
judge it against certain standards or criteria.
The following evaluative criteria are commonly
applied to dramatic literature.
(1) ORIGINALITY OR INVENTIVENESS: It is said that
there are only a handful of themes to write
about, but an infinity of ways to do so. One
standard that can be applied to a work of
dramatic literature, therefore, is originality:
To what extent does this work offer a fresh
perspective on its theme? A work that does
offer something new–an inventive plot, unique
characters, fresh language, surprising twists–
will be judged favorably. A work that seems
too similar to another work or that depends on
stereotyped characters, predictable events, or
clichéd observations will be judged
(2) CONSISTENCY OF EFFECT: In a given work, a
playwright aims for a particular effect.
If some section of a play seems inappropriate–
if it contains inappropriate language, an ill-
chosen character, or an unbelievable outcome–
the work will be judged unfavorably.
(3) THEME: The theme of a play is generally an
idea or insight into life that can itself be
judged. One who accepts the theme will rate
the work favorably, while one who objects to
it may reject the work itself.
(4) CLARITY: While works of drama vary
considerably in how difficult they are to
read and understand, it is not appropriate to
evaluate a work solely on its level of
difficulty. It is, however, appropriate to
judge how clearly the work is presented. If
the ideas become clear once you deal fairly
with the work, it deserves a fair evaluation.
If it is not clear—if the central idea is
fuzzy or if the connections between parts
seem random–then the work deserves an
(5) COMPLETENESS OF EFFECT: The intent of a work
may be clear and the effort admirable, but the
work may yet fail if it seems incomplete. For
example, you may see why a playwright reveals
four different characters’ thoughts on a
subject, but if these characters are not
distinctive or if they all sound alike, you may
judge the work unfavorably. By contrast, if
playwright succeeds in putting together lines
or characters or ideas so that the reader/
viewer gains a sense of satisfaction, the work
can be favorably judged.
(6) IMPORTANCE: Dramatic literature can be judged
on whether or not a play is of lasting value.
For example, a straight adventure story, while
enjoyable to read or see, may be evaluated as
less important than one that causes the
audience to reflect on human nature.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF A WORK OF DRAMATIC
LITERATURE CAN BEST BE DETERMINED BY
THE TRUTH THE PLAYWRIGHT IMPARTS CONCERNING THE
NATURE OF THE HUMAN CONDITION.
5. Select-one work of *literary criticism concerning the
play being studied. Many volumes of literary criticism
are in our library as well as on the internet and other
on-line sources. Several are found at the end of each play in the Bedford Text
A. Summarize the material in the article
B. Use a works cited entry to reference the source.
Literary criticism is an evaluation, assessment, explanation, analysis, etc.
of a given literary selection. It may be favorable or unfavorable—positive or negative.
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